Monday, October 28, 2013

Let’s Learn from MOOCs and Recapture the Microphone

Quite a few topics have been twirling in my mind these days but nothing was really solidifying until I read the following three blog posts in my pocket account in at the same time:
They are all interesting reads, so I highly recommend that you read them and think about them as a collection. One of the things that was discussed in this collection is the (mistaken) grouping of MOOC and online courses of the "traditional" sort. This is something I've discussed in the past both on this blog and in person. Hogue sees a silver lining: the MOOC craze is raising awareness of traditional online courses and there are more players interested in looking into offerings in the traditional online space. However, as she writes, the other side of this is:
An unfortunate side effect of equating online learning to MOOCs is that those who are new to online learning and are being asked to convert face-to-face courses to online think that their online courses need to look like MOOCs – some of which are quite poorly designed!
This is something that I worry a bit about because there are faculty groups out there such as CFHE (no relation to the 2012 MOOC as far as I know) that not only lump MOOCs with online learning and poorly designed MOOC, or even conscientiously designed ones that are experimental, lump their failures in with tried and true, and researched, traditional online courses. Furthermore, while 2000 is not that far into our past, it's more than a decade away, but for-profit school misconduct is still something that is shoved in our faces without critical analysis of the differences between institutional practices and rigor of courses.
Hogue continues on to write a bit more about the silver lining in MOOCs in that they are potshot good sources of OER. I have to say that this is something I've thought about because I am thinking about researching and co-designing a course on gamification and games in education. There are at least 3 MOOCs out the that have some nice videos that discuss principles that my co-designer and I can look into and use as part of th course, depending on the direction we want to take. Of course, this potentially poses an issue of design. Hogue ponders the following:
So, the MOOC affect on online courses is a mixed blessing. Learners may very well benefit from the increase in the availability of online learning options, organizations will benefit from branding and perhaps lower cost for higher quality online course content materials, but online instructional designers and instructors won't see any increase in compensation, but will see an increase in expectations of quality from both learners and their organizations. Do you agree? Am I sounding too pessimistic here?
I have to say that I am not that pessimistic. We are actually due for a major reality check in our industry (instructional design). People who hire instructional designers (if we judge from job postings) want a master of all trades. Of course, this means that you won't be a master of any of them, so you won't be creating awesome videos, or animations, or simulation environments if you are a generalist. This types of MOOC endeavors require a team, and a team is not something that is available in just any run of the mill course, as hogue points out. People can demand that all their online courses are MOOC style in quality of materials, but unless they want to sink in the cost of people, they won't get it. As designers and instructors we need to drive this point home to people
One last thing from the Hogue post:

A good online course does not need the high quality production that an xMOOC has, it isn't about marketing the university or boosting the ego of the presenting professor. The focus should be more on creating meaningful experiences for the learners – which doesn't require high production costs – rather it requires thoughtful learning design, which is mindful of the medium, but also mindful of the learner circumstances.
I would actually argue that xMOOCs are over-produced. Even xMOOCs don't require that level of production. You can develop a really great xMOOC and not need a documentary sized budget to make things happen. That said, I agree, the design considerations vary on a lot of things, and how you design an online course will vary substantially from course to course based on they're factors.
Next up we have MacGregor. One of the things that stood out to me was the following:

An annex to the main report published last week, The Maturing of the MOOC – Literature review of massive open online courses and other forms of online distance learning, finds that opinions on the role of MOOCs in development have polarised. While many identify MOOCs as providing direct access to global high quality education, others “detect a new form of cultural imperialism.”
She writes about combating the "cultural imperialism" that is identified the the report by [by the way, it would have been nice to have a link to that report :-) ] by having MOOCs offered in other languages. I would say that you need to go a step beyond that and think about what MOOC pedagogy means beyond language usage. There were examples of different MOOCs in different languages across Europe, but there is something to be said about he cultural hegemony that exists in they creation of software and the underlying assumptions that go into that software design. I am a firm believer that you can't just take the xMOOC approach, or the cMOOC approach and have those formats translated into Chinese, Korean, French or Greek. The cultural and educational philosophies of those countries and their history play a large part in how education has been shaped. MOOCs, at least the cMOOCs that I have been exposed to, don't seek to repeat or copy the existing higher education structures, but they do seek to further understand and expand on them. When you do this you start from a specific base and move outward from there. When we have three of the major platforms for xMOOCs coming from North America, the imposed underlying assumptions and foundations are those of North American higher education, not European, and not Asian. It's time to rethink that paradigm.
Finally, we have Cillay. This is where the blog post title comes from for this post. There were a number of interesting things in this post, but I think that the educational hegemony and reinforcement of existing power structures in Highered education is something that really needs discussing. Here are two interesting excerpts discussing MOOC participants (no sources are cited in his blog post by the way):

Those students who have “experienced” MOOCs are often older, knowledgeable, and credentialed and, even so, many MOOCs offer an unenviable student success rate, some estimate that rate to be around 5%. Is it fair to expect a typical 18-year-old to thrive in an environment that requires academic confidence, preparation, and self-discipline? We could look at the San Jose State University experiment with Udacity to provide a partial answer–where we see a younger population of students in need of remediation, not performing well in their MOOC.

If that’s so, (cue the really uncomfortable question) who are those students ill-prepared to thrive in a MOOC? Might we envision a population that lacks access to effective high schools, who have had limited success in formal learning, and from a lineage unfamiliar with higher education? Is it prudent to create a system that requires the most disadvantaged students to pay more? And is it right? This may be a question that each university will need to answer independently.
This is true, and I've discussed it elsewhere. MOOCs, the way they are currently designed (limited support structures from the institution) are designed for the self-starter, the student who already knows a little something about the topic or can create connections without a lot of assistance. They are not designed with the novice, or newbie, in mind - which is why it's perplexing to me that all these "elite" institutions are treating their MOOC offerings like a gift from God. Students who are undergraduates don't, by and large, have those skills needed to be successful MOOC learners. This is why most people who participate in these MOOCs do so in a way that is comparable to participating in public lectures by public academics and then taking their participation either home with them or go to the digital equivalent of an intellectual salon. There is definitely a disconnect between what MOOCs from elite institutions claim they want to do, with what they are actually doing. I am not saying that we can't bring more of these topic to the people, but I really doubt that we can MOOCify undergraduate education like this. Even graduate education can't be don't in whole like this.
Another part that Cillay discusses is the cost of free. He writes:

Then there is the cost of these free courses. Not to the student, but to the university. The cost to a university to play with edX is substantial. To offer a course through edX, is $50,000. If a university wants edX assistance building an online course, that’s $250,000, plus $50,000 every time it offers the course. I wonder at the sustainability of this type of investment in “free” courses.

So, what is the price of free? If you had asked this back in the cMOOC days, I would have said "very little" because everything was distributed. Blogs, wikis, twitter, mendeley and so on. All you really needed is some software to collect and disseminate the day's MOOC work in a newsletter. So what's that? Maybe $10 per day on an amazon virtual server. This is certainly nothing like what coursera, EdX,and Udacity have as their costs. Make no mistakes, the for profits see this as a way to enter the, currently entrenched, LMS market. We've most certainly have gone way off the rails with this from the early edupunk days of MOOC. I think it's time to reassess the mega productions, the LMS, and everything that has gone into the xMOOCs. If you are spending that much money on something you are giving away for free, you are doing something wrong. You really need some tangible, and I would argue ethically derived, ROI to justify that kind of expenditure.
Finally, the question is posed about what is the student experience in MOOC? Cillay writes that the student rxperience is often forgotten in MOOCs. I would argue that perhaps this is the case I with some MOOCs, but not with all MOOCs. Just because we have, as Hogue puts it, Content-Learner interactions it doesn't mean that we've forgotten about the experience of the learner. I would counter-argue that we forget about the learners experience in our face to face courses when we have auditoria full of people in intro level courses. I would also argue this when you have one instructor teaching a section of 50 online. What is the learner experience there? In MOOCs we may do a poor job of learner engagement at this point because we certainly don't have the knowledge of how to do this well in massive environments, but what is the excuse for current face to face on traditional online practices?
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